Not only is carsharing heating up in metropolitan cities, but with the right strategy and resources, it can also be successful on an island like Bermuda.
BERMUDA. April 8, 2021 For this new edition of The Shared Journey, we sat down with Piers Carr, CEO of Current Vehicles, to discuss the challenges and great opportunities for island-based mobility services. So, buckle up; we’re in for quite a trip!
Tell us more about yourself and what motivated you to work in the mobility industry?
I’m a Bermudian who grew up in the UK and then moved to New York where I worked in finance. I was having a really good time, but not really doing anything that felt constructive or brought immense satisfaction. I had my first kid on the way, and it was time to move back to Bermuda and do something different.
I had always wanted to start up a business of my own. Coming from Bermuda and loving the island, I understood that tourism was suffering partly because of a lack of mobility solutions. That was the reason I wanted to set up this business; to help people get around the island and ultimately improve road safety and tourism.
Tell us about Current Vehicles: what makes it unique and how does it fit within Bermuda’s mobility ecosystem?
We were the first to market, by helping to change the legislation and introducing what we call mini cars, but essentially rental cars.
We also provide a really cool navigation app “Explore Bermuda”, which is a curated guide to the island with great experiences and audio features, it partners nicely with the rental. We provide our customers with a transportation solution, but then we want them to go out and see some of the amazing things that we have to offer here. You can book a vehicle and you can go and find out what is happening today on this island. It might be a party, it might be an event, and then you have the means to get to that event. Our ultimate goal is to merge the two technologies, the navigation app and the booking app, then we would have a great business I think.
What also makes us unique is that we are an island-based shared mobility service, and as such we are very much geared towards tourism. Unlike a lot of mobility services around the world that are geared to a consistent customer base, we must work really hard to continue to get new customers. We are looking at a user that may only use our service once a year or once ever, so we need to work a lot to attract their attention, get them to sign up, and become a customer of ours. We also need to do a really good job through customer service and so they remember us.
Also, there are certain laws in Bermuda, such as the fact that you are only allowed to own one car per household, that lead our business to a local market as well.
We have this hybrid approach, where we are trying to attract 60,000 locals who have their own mobility issues, as well as almost a million tourists that come in a non-covid year.
Pros & cons of launching on an island?
Scaling in Bermuda is somewhat easy to do, but you hit your ceiling quickly because you have a relatively small customer base. If you launch in a cosmopolitan area you are dealing with millions of people, although you do have competition from both a good public transportation system and other mobility services. Here, it is less about competition, but you reach a saturation point much faster.
On the other hand, a great benefit of Bermuda being so small is that once the word is out there, and people see the services that you have to offer, it’s relatively quick to acquire a new customer.
The island has a sophisticated electrical infrastructure and being only 21 sq. km, it is fairly straightforward to build out a concentrated network of charging stations. We have deployed over 500 points so far, mainly at hotels and rental properties.
However, there is some seasonality to our business. We are typically busy or very busy for nine months of the year, and then it slows off from November through to February or March. We have to shift our approach and focus on our local customer base through promotions and events.
Bermuda is a great incubator. If we are able to deliver a successful product here, then I do think that there is an opportunity beyond Bermuda. Anywhere you have an island, you have natural borders that make it easier for the adoption of electric vehicles because people can only travel so far.
You are about to execute a drastic shift in your business model and strategy, from scheduled booking station-based to Instant access free floating. What motivated that decision?
We decided to do it because we have been a traditional rental facility that is dependent on fixed locations: fixed costs, fixed rent, staffing, electrical costs, and operating hours. The instant access of free-floating gives a lot more flexibility to our customers and is better suited to the local market. They can pick up and drop off the vehicle when they want to, and only pay for what they use versus being committed to minimal rental periods. It will hopefully help keep our costs down too.
Covid taught us a lot about being more creative with our offering. We always had instant access in mind but last year opened our eyes to the big demand from the local market and ways in which we needed to adapt to suit their needs.
We are not going to make a total transition to free-floating just yet as we don’t want to alienate those loyal customers who may not be ready for the technological shift. It is important that we keep our traditional rental model with stations available for those people that want it. A total shift will happen over time, however.
Free Floating services, by definition, require more robust operations as vehicles can be scattered around. This could be a show-stopper for some but apparently not for you: why?
Bermuda is a manageable island and as mentioned is small in size. We are not completely free-floating but dependent on home zones, to start and end trips, and they are in specific locations. We still know where a vehicle is going to start and end a trip. It just may be starting in one home zone and ending in another, but they are not going to be entirely spread out throughout the island.
Our goal is to find out how best to manage those home zones, then we will be able to expand them in size and number.
Earlier this year you launched Current Works, an EV specialized repair shop: why this diversification?
It was a natural progression for us. We already invested in staff and equipment, our fleet needs servicing, and we have a very talented head technician who sees an opportunity to try and encourage the adoption of electric vehicles in general. We thought, let’s provide a service facility, the first of its kind on the island here, which will encourage more and more people to start driving electric. It also helps to offset some of our costs, by having this other revenue stream for ourselves.
How much of a role do you think the public authorities should play in this transition? In your case, how much of a role have they played?
If you look at any city around the world that has a great mobility service or a high adoption of EVs, it is always because they have the regulatory support from the government and there are incentives in place, otherwise, it makes no sense to adopt. I fully believe that in order to be successful, we need to have their support.
For us, it was probably a five-year process from when we first approached the government to when we actually launched the business in 2017. There is a lot of bureaucracy here in Bermuda and it is still incredibly difficult to get changes passed, but I think that we built up a good relationship with most of the decision-makers.
Why Vulog? How does the AiMA platform fit into your plans for Current Vehicles now and in the future?
We did our research about Vulog and saw a lot of big names in your clients, which gave us confidence. You had and still have really excellent customer service and it really made us feel comfortable that we were working with the right people.
We had an established business that we were very protective of, so there was a lot of consideration that went into making this transition. We needed a bit of time in order to test the services to make sure that this was going to work, and Vulog gave us the flexibility to get comfortable with what we were doing. Our decision to switch from a scheduled booking to an instant access environment required a complete reconfiguration of the solution, and Vulog was always supportive of that and did a good job. I think that really encouraged us to make the shift.
What is next for the Current brand?
Our ultimate goal will be B2B and the diversification of vehicles. That is where I see a great opportunity. We are working with another OEM right now and actively trying to get another 80 cars here by springtime. We also plan to introduce new modes of transportation like e-bikes, which are not restricted by Bermudian law.
All of these things are a work in progress, they will be in the future, but these are our goals. We really want to address mobility issues here and deliver a great product for tourists without spreading ourselves too thin. Our goal is not to be everything to everyone straight away, we want to make sure we have perfected the basics before any thought of expansion.
Vulog, the world’s leading mobility tech provider, is proud to be powering Current Vehicles, the electric carsharing service operating in Bermuda. The island-based service provides users with the safest, greenest, and most unique way to explore Bermuda, all at an affordable price!